Archive for April, 2009

OSGrid – Why and How to Join

Why to join OSGrid?

Since over a half year I run a couple of regions in OSGrid. OSGrid is the biggest Open Source Metaverse that currently exists (see http://osgrid.org/). I have chosen this virtual world, because it allows people to run their own regions using Opensim (http://www.opensimulator.org/), a 3D application server for virtual worlds, and because it is the main Opensim grid. It always uses and tests the latest versions of this new, quickly evolving technology.

From the beginning I was fully aware, that Opensim is still under development (alpha software) and that especially in OSGrid, using the latest versions, this means that you need a kind of pioneer spirit. On one hand that means that I can use the newest features and bug fixes of Opensim very early. But on the other hand, new bugs or fundamental protocol changes can cause temporary problems and seldom even service disruptions.

For someone who runs own region servers in OSGrid, it is normal to regularly spend time to test new Opensim versions, beside improving the own Opensim installation and the processes for service management.

The main reason why I have decided to use Opensim already today, probably still about 6 months before it will become beta software, is that the functionality and stability is quite impressive already. Beside that I want to support the development of Opensim as a technology and to help to build up a community of people within OSGrid already today.

The community within OSGrid is quite impressive: Beside software developers you meet old Second Life pioneers, great content developers and residents of all ages enjoying to explore this new frontier of technology together. Compared to Second Life there is a quite relaxed spirit and willingness to help each other. Many inhabitants like to share the great things they have built with the other people in OSGrid.

OSGrid

The Open Metaverse of the Future

Without doubt, the development of an Open Metaverse, based on highly distributed 3D servers, is a technology that will enable the next evolutionary step of the World Wide Web by integrating information and communications in a much more natural way than everything we have seen before.

The integration of information and communications in a a human friendly 3D environment, where switching between 2D and 3D views is possible at any time and where each person has a global identity, user profile, friend lists, interest group memberships, a virtual inventory, simplified payments, etc. will add much value to every persons life as well as for the companies offering products and services in this future 3D Web.

I believe, that Opensim has the potential to become the basis technology of what will become this future 3D Internet. Till this vision becomes reality, there is still a long way to go. First features that were found useful in existing virtual worlds need to be fully implemented. Then the next step will be the integration of the traditional World Wide Web and real world applications, creating new means of information sharing, communication and interaction of people using this future 3D Web. This required combined development efforts on the 3D viewer and server side.

But now let’s go back from visions to already very concrete developments of Opensim and OSGrid.

My first impressions in OSGrid

When I have joined OSGrid a year ago, I saw, that beside important features still missing, that most people who had signed up did not like their newbie “Ruth” look. It gave them the impression, that Opensim was still not ready for real use. And at that time there was no possibility, beside uploading or creating your own clothes, skins, etc. to improve your look. That was the reason why I have started the shopping area at Samsara. Samsara offers donated free skins, shapes, eyes, hair, clothes, etc., as well as shops with textures, plants and tools for builders.

Homestead land versus renting or running whole regions

My next impression was, that many people are interested in owning land in OSGrid. But many did not have their own Opensim server running yet. Or they were even not interested in running their own Opensim server at all. At the beginning most people show interest in small parcels of land called “homesteads“. Homestead land parcels allow people to start building and to get a first impression. Many residents of OSGrid offer free homestead parcels to people new in OSGrid. I have also started to offer homestead parcels on my 4 tropical atoll regions South of the Samsara shopping area.

Other people like to have their own full regions. But for that you need to install and run Opensim yourself, unless you find someone who is willing to run a region server for you. I saw that there is a demand for Opensim regions to rent, but on the other hand that there is no bigger professional company offering such services in OSGrid yet. The reason is, that maintenance and support costs for alpha software are quite high.

I have decided to offer such regions in OSGrid already today, based on a price that just covers my costs. I do this, because I think it would be bad for the development of Opensim, if non IT specialists would be locked out. Many people do not care about the details of the technology used (installing, configuring and running Opensim, updates, etc.). They just want to use Opensim and they have very valuable feedback for the future development of Opensim. My regions use the newest recommended Opensim releases and provide enhanced Opensim features like groups, offline messaging and voice.

What does it mean to run your own Opensim server?

Anyway many people who join OSGrid quickly ask, how they can get their own Opensim region server running on their own computer at home. I have the impression that most underestimate the complexity of installing, configuring and running Opensim, although it is clearly stressed that Opensim is alpha software and still under development. For most people the troubles already start with the required network setup, that often causes most difficulties at the very beginning.

Before you decide to run your own region server, you should be aware of the following:

  • Opensim is alpha software and still under development. Do not expect software that you just install and it works.
  • The documentation for Opensim is still limited and sometimes it takes some time to find the required information.
  • You will invest a reasonable amount of time in maintaining your regions and testing problems you have encountered.
  • You need to have at least basic software development and network management skills.
  • Expect that you will identify software bugs that you should report using a tool called Mantis (http://opensimulator.org/mantis/).
  • Support the continuing development of Opensim as a tester and by proposing possible improvements.
  • If you encounter problems with your Opensim installation, good debugging skills are very helpful.
  • If you connect to a grid like OSGrid, expect that you have to update your Opensim installation regularly.
  • Often you will need to update to Opensim trunk versions for which no executable files exist yet.
  • You should know how to compile software from source files on your computer (especially Mono and Opensim).
  • You need to be able to set up your local network so that people can access it from the Internet.
  • If you have a dynamic IP address you need to setup a service like DYNDNS (http://www.dyndns.org/).

If you have the skills previously listen and if you are willing to take the burden of using software that is still under development, you can join and support a really important open source project that probably will shape the future of virtual worlds and even the future of the Internet.

The purpose of this blog

In the past many people have asked me, if I could write a blog about how to install and run Opensim on Linux servers. Finally I have found time to start this blog. – Sorry for the long delay!

My goal is, to collect all information pieces that are widely distributed at the moment and to add information that even is not documented yet, like how to use Monit for Opensim service management. I want to provide a step by step guide for people interested in setting up their own Opensim server on a Linux server (I use Ubuntu).

Here I will not repeat what is documented somewhere else already. I will just reference such documents. Instead I will try to give an overview how all parts fit together. I will describe how to get an Opensim region server up and running, how to integrate it in a grid like OSGrid and how to maintain the service in an efficient way. This blog intends to provide additional information wherever this might be useful.

In general the main sources of information for these topics are http://opensimulator.org/, see section “Running your own OpenSimulator”, and http://osgrid.org/, see “Instructions > Attach Region”.


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